Mexico’s drubbing at the hands of eventual champions Chile left many a Mexico supporter devastated. It was the worst loss Mexico suffered in anything anyone cared about. It hurt.
“The healing process” are a group of words I’ve heard people use. I can’t exactly profess the viability of this kind of thing, but I’m just going to go ahead and use them anyway. I feel like pulling out the positives of this beat down would help in this process, if indeed this is an actual thing.
Despite the ugliness, there are a few diamonds in the rough that can be gleaned from the murk that was the Santa Clara fiasco. They may be a bit of a reach in these fragile times. They may cause a few objections. Yet, they are there.
The Europeo Love
There’s been so much to be excited about when it comes to Mexico’s top talent. Chicharito Hernandez has continued to assert his dominance in Europe. His move from United to Madrid and eventually Germany has done little to his reputation as the face of the Mexican national team. The goals have poured off his boots since his arrival at Leverkusen.
The Porto boys haven’t been much farther behind. Miguel Layun, Mexico’s most consistent in Europe, has been an assist machine while not being afraid of the occasional goal. Tecatito Corona is just a kid from Mexico, but also the present and future of El Tri. Just try to tame your excitement for his career trajectory. Hector Herrera is arguably Mexico’s most important player at the moment. The midfielder has done well at Porto and appears to be on the cusp of a deserved big move.
I haven’t yet mentioned Mexico’s best, the Golden Mexican Eagle, Andres Guardado. There’s a real cadre of Mexican talent not only playing in Europe but performing at a high level. This group of expected starters have caused many El Tri supporters to be plenty excited – and justifiably so. It’s pretty good right now.
With that being said, we may want to dial back the intensity level on the love of the Europeos. There are many great players out there. They just aren't transcendent players. They aren't players that are capable of taking over a match irrespective of what is happening with their team as a whole or the tactical approach. Mexico has some great talent, but no talent that can win on talent alone.
How is this a positive?
Simply possessing that knowledge is important for the roster, the coaching staff, FMF cronies, and the fans. It's important to know that without a group playing as a unit, and one that makes some actual sense based on the skill sets and opposition, defeat is coming. This knowledge is the best way to defeat complacency at any level.
There weren’t many Mexicans that finished this Copa America with their value higher than when they entered. The stink of 7-0 is a hard one to wash off. The group stage wasn’t exactly a showcase of Mexican talent either. Some of Mexico’s best played at their worst.
Yet, there’s a case to be made that the Benfica forward did pretty well for himself. Raul Jimenez had a decent argument for a starting place in El Tri before the Copa America; it appears to be much stronger now.
His seven minutes as a substitute in the Uruguay match were quite impactful. Jimenez recorded a quick assist and created plenty of opportunities in a limited time. His start in the Jamaica match was not as eventful but he ended with decent numbers and a respectable showing. Jimenez sat out for the toothless showing against Venezuela. Finally, he was a halftime substitute in the debacle in Santa Clara. Granted being on the field while your team concedes five is never great, Raul Jimenez did finish as Mexico’s highest rated player on Sofa Score. The eye test backs up what the stats showed. For stretches of that second half, Jimenez looked to be the only Mexican able to complete a simple pass.
There was nothing monumental from Raul in this tournament. He didn’t blow anyone away. At the club level, he struggles to get starts. Yet, when he does play, Jimenez continues to demonstrate his importance to the national team. Jimenez is a striker unlike any other for Mexico. He should be used as such moving forward.
A Few Good Backs
Over time doubts surrounding Mexico's backs have evaporated. Time does that kind of thing. The longer Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar stick around, the less we think about the defensive liabilities and assume them as regular starters. Looking at accomplishments alone, they've earned it.
Both Aguilar and Layun became regulars for El Tri in the Miguel 'Piojo' Herrera regime. Their skill sets and work within the same system at Club America made them perfect additions to a similar set up within the national team. These are attack-first players who excel at being that extra man forward and using that space to hurt the opposition.
Layun is an accomplished and successful player in Europe, but he's not great at everything. He's solid passer, covers plenty of ground, unleashes killer shots, and is smart in possession. He's just not a great stand-up left or right back. He is beaten too easily and is rarely the organized part of an organized defense.
Layun is a great player - just not a great defender.
I can't say the same for Aguilar. While he's not great, he can certainly be useful. When Aguilar is able to come forward with reckless abandon, he could be huge. His extra time golazo in the CONCACAF cup will never be forgotten. He sends in an excellent cross and can obviously score from anywhere. Aguilar just can't really defend. For a defender this could be an issue.
Aguilar gets caught out of position with regularity. He gets embarrassed by basic passing from the opposition. In Mexico's drubbing at the hands of Chile, Aguilar was obviously the worst player for Mexico - which is really saying something.
Again ... how is this a positive?
Absent the use of wingbacks it’s time to rethink the starting spot of these two players. Both Aguilar and Layun are excellent backs to use in World Cup Qualifying and Gold Cup competitions. Against inferior competition, they can aide in breaking down defensive set-ups with less fear of getting burned in the back. However, against the better sides in the world more true defensive backs are needed. Aguilar and Layun aren’t cut out to defend for the majority of the match. It’s not going to go well.
Juan Carlos Osorio, and whoever takes over for him after his inevitable termination, need to start finding backs that could be used as true defenders in major competitions. This means they need to be scouted, trained and worked in to the national team well before Russia. They don’t need to be world-class; they simply need to be capable defenders.
This need is obvious and Mexico has time to address the issue before another major tournament rolls around. It should be a positive – if it is actually recognized.